Updated: May 1, 2019
THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days, starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of a quirky and goofy guy, and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Griffin Roberts - Right-Handed Pitcher
Drafted in the 1st round (CBA round) of the 2018 Draft
HE'S BEEN SUSPENDED READ THE DAMN WRITE-UP
Basically 23 when his season starts
STATS ARE REFLECTIVE OF 2018 BECAUSE OF SUSPENSION
This is a story of the best secondary offering in the system, and what happens when that secondary offering is shut down because MLB doesn't hold the members of the player association accountable to the same levels that the minor leaguers are held accountable.
On December 15th, Roberts was suspended 50 games for violating MiLB policy against banned substances. Later on in that evening, mister "Dr. Roberts" admitted via Twitter that he was suspended for cannabis.
You can find my in-depth take on that RIGHT HERE, but the basic gist of what I'm saying in the article is "members of the Major League Baseball Players Association aren't held to the same standards as the indentured servants that we know as Minor League baseball players are, and this is a damn shame and failure of the system." That being said, he did break the rules, and he knew the rules, so he should be punished.
Anyway, The minor league season starts right around the beginning of April, so that means that Roberts won't be able to pitch competitively within the organization until the end of May. He will, however, pitch a bunch at the "Home Box Office" known as Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, FL. There, he'll pitch in extended spring training games against the short season affiliates, while working with some of the teams best instructors and coaches. My guess would be that he'll start the 2019 season off at Palm Beach if he's showing signs of being the monster that he was at Wake Forest. Of Course, only time will tell.
But we are wayyyyyyyyyy ahead of ourselves.
Griffin Roberts is a stud. Standing 6'3" and just about the listed 205 pounds, Roberts just looks like a prototypical pitchers. His frame lines up just fine. The other thing about Roberts is, his slider is devastating. It's honestly my favorite pitch that I've ever seen from a player that the Cardinals have drafted. Dakota Hudson's cutter was amazing, and Luke Weaver, Michael Wacha, and Marco Gonzales all had changeups that were on another level.
But nothing compares to Roberts' slider. It's filthy and mean, and borderline deserving of having human resources paperwork filed against it.
He'll use it in any count, and part of his effectiveness as a pitcher comes from his ability to command it with his back against the wall. If you think for one second that he won't throw it exactly how he wants to throw it in a 3-2 count, then you are wrong. I want you to see it over and over again. SO WATCH IT A LOT:
It does get a little complicated with Roberts. First, he was a dynamite closer for Wake Forrest before converting to starter for his junior season. Because of this, as the innings piled up, we saw that he wasn't the same pitcher at the end of the season as he was at the beginning of the season. This is, more than likely, why the Cardinals were a little extra cautious with him as they plotted a late organizational debut date in 2018.
While we have a second, let's talk about how good he was in his first full season as a starter in 2018. You might see his junior year ERA of 3.82 and feel unimpressed. I don't blame you. We've been conditioned to invest heavily into ERA. Now, let me tell you what I see. I see that he let up a batting average against of .221 while allowing a measly 20 extra base hits to the 407 batters that he faced. His WHIP was a little high, but acceptable, at 1.20, but when you strike out 130 in 96.2 innings without allowing a ton of extra base hits, you're allowed to put a guy on base here and there.
There are a lot of scouts that view him as a back-end of the pen arm in the long run because of how dynamic he was out of the Wake Forest bullpen. He's a future starter, to me.
The other issue with Roberts is that he "lets it fly" just a little too much sometimes. You can really tell when he's doing this, too. He speeds up his delivery, let's his arm fly, plants a little short-legged, and doesn't go directly to the plate. Because of this, he also flies WAY open when he's letting loose (you can see this a bit in the above .gif). This worked just fine for him when he was pitching out of the bullpen, but it's something that he's going to have to really clean up and streamline. It doesn't happen all of the time, but it's something that happens more than it should. Thus, it's an area in need of growth.
Part of the reason that some evaluators view Roberts as a reliever long-term is because his fastball velocity went from the high-90's as a reliever to the low/low-mid 90's as a starter. This isn't uncommon (obviously), but it is something worth taking note of. There are some conflicting reports on if this is more of a traditional fastball or a two-seam sinker, and I'll go all in on it being a sinker. It fades arm-side and appears to have a little more movement without diminished velocity. While Dakota Hudson throws a similar pitch (and maybe even with substantially more movement), he doesn't command it as well as Roberts does. This is why I am more bullish on Roberts as a starter than most: I believe that he'll work out his release point issues and his repeatability issues as he gets his body under better control.
The next step in the evolution of Griffin Roberts was a changeup that he introduced while transitioning from the pen to the rotation. Early on in his final collegiate season, there were times when it was sharp and thrown with a consistent delivery.
However, as fatigue crept in and innings pitched piled up, Roberts got a little more sporadic with his mechanics. He appeared to lose feel for a pitch that requires a tremendous amount of feel. The hope, now, is that he regains the feel for the change that he demonstrate early on in the 2018 Wake Forest season.
He'll have plenty of time to work on it, at least. The one thing that I feel comfortable knowing, is that the issues that Roberts has are the type of issues that the Cardinals have done well correcting. That said, he's going to need to throw the changeup as well as he did at the beginning of the 2018 season if he is going to stay a starter long term.
I love the above .gif with every ounce of my being. First, take note of how filthy the pitch is. Next, take note of the situation. It's the top of the 7th in an important conference game. The game is tied. Roberts is up to 122 pitches (college baseball can be the worst sometimes). In a 2-2 count with a runner in scoring position, Roberts does not hesitate to go to his bread and butter. It's beautiful. But that's not what I really love about it.
What I really love about the .gif above is the emotion that Roberts shows. He deserves that fist pump! That's a helluva spot to get out of, and he gets out of it because he has balls of steel. Watch the .gif until the end to see ankles break from a side view.
It's a lot of fun to hear this young man talk about pitching, too. He just understands it. It's fun to hear him talk about closing games. It's fun to hear him talk about the differences between closing and starting. It's fun to hear him talk about his slider. More importantly, from a fan and scouting perspective, it's just fun to watch this kid pitch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Roberts is a tremendously talented right-handed pitcher with my favorite breaking pitch in the Cardinals' system. After doubling his career high in innings-pitched during the 2018 season, Roberts will be able to show what he's made of in like-totaled innings during the 2019 season. He has some serious refining to do with his mechanics in both the repeatability and body control departments, but I feel very comfortable in predicting that Roberts' floor is that of a major league bullpen contributor. I, however, anticipate more than that out of him. It will really come down to how that changeup levels out. I'm anxious to see where this former cannabis lover starts the season when his suspension is over.
Thanks For Reading!!